Beverly B. Hobbs, Ph.D.
Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development
Oregon State University

Copyright/Access Information


How children spend their out-of-school hours is an important
factor in their overall development. Quality experiences during
these hours provide children with opportunities to develop new
skills, learn new information, and connect with caring adults,
all of which promote positive youth development. Supervising children
in the out-of-school hours was once the direct responsibility
of parents, but increasingly, as more families have both parents
or the only parent in the workforce, families look to others in
the community to provide care and supervision for their children,
or they leave their children on their own.

In Oregon, local county Commissions on Children and Families are
tasked with developing and/or funding programs to support children
and families. For many of these Commissions, assuring an adequate
supply of quality school-age care options is a priority. However,
before program decisions can be made, the needs of families must
be known. In 1994 the 4-H Youth Development Program of the Oregon
State University Extension Service offered to help counties conduct
local assessments of the need for school-age child care. Between
April 1994 and May 1995, County Commissions on Children and Families
in seven rural counties responded to the offer and needs assessments
were carried out (see Figure 1). Each county modified a basic
survey questionnaire, developed and used previously in Wisconsin
(Riley, 1992), to reflect the kinds of information they wanted
to gather. Local public schools helped distribute the surveys
to families and collected the completed questionnaires. The questionnaires
were forwarded to Oregon State University where Extension faculty
analyzed the data and wrote a report of findings, supported in
part by a grant from U.S. Bancorp. Individual county reports are
available from county Commissions on Children and Families or
from the 4-H Youth Development and Education Department at Oregon
State University.

Figure 1. SACC Needs Assessments Conducted (1994-1995)

 County  No. of Families Participating  Grade Level of Students
 Columbia  845  K-6
 Coos  1,111  K-4
 Crook  1,483  K-8
 Harney  137  K-6
 Jefferson  557  K-8
 Josephine  1,289  K-5
 Malheur  608  K-5


Impact of the School-Age Child Care Needs Assessment Project

The surveys were undertaken to gain locally derived data that
could be used to guide community-based planning. In all instances,
the release of the findings in the county resulted in increased
attention for school-age child care issues. Additionally, other
short-term impacts were identified. A brief overview of how counties
have used or plan to use the data and noted short-term impacts
is presented below.

Columbia County (Report of findings issued September 1995)
Efforts to date have been concerned primarily with sharing the
report, particularly among Commission members and school personnel.
The Commission plans to initially use the report to raise awareness
of the issues surrounding school-age care, educating citizens
and policy makers about the needs families have. The findings
will also be used to inform discussions leading to the identification
of Commission priorities for upcoming years and the design of
family support policies.

Coos County (Report of findings issued February 1995)
Information from the report has been shared widely throughout
the county. One of the first steps taken by the Commission as
a result of the survey was to award a $2350 grant to the Coos
County 4-H After-School Activities Program to help expand services
at elementary schools. Currently there are approximately 44 children
in grades K-3 who participate in the Coquille Program. Volunteers
are being recruited to provide similar activities programs at
other schools.

Crook County (Report of findings issued July 1994)
There have been three primary outcomes associated with the needs
assessment project. First, an after-school program to serve children
in grades K-6 was developed and implemented at Powell Butte Elementary
School. The program is currently full, and the waiting list indicates
that there is still a need for additional spaces.
A second outcome was the funding of a position to recruit and
train family day care providers. The Crook County Commission on
Children and Families awarded the grant for the position to the
regional child care resource and referral agency.

The development of a program to educate children and families
about the responsibilities of self-care and the importance of
safe practices when children are left on their own was yet a third
outcome of the survey process. The Home Alone and Prepared (HAP)
program was developed by the OSU-Crook County Extension Service,
based on survey information families provided regarding the self-care
topics they felt their children needed to know about and parents'
preferences for how information should be delivered. The HAP program
provides a workbook and videotape to families with children in
third grade. The materials are designed to involve both adults
and children in deciding whether or not children are ready to
be left alone for short periods of time, and, if they are, to
help prepare them to safely handle the related responsibilities.
Introduction of the program began in November 1995 within Crook
County, and the program immediately drew interest from other areas
of the state.

Harney County (Report of findings issued June 1994)
Survey findings led the Harney County Commission on Children and
Families to appropriate $8,000 to start an after-school program
in Burns. The program opened midway through the 1994-1995 school
year and was unable to generate enough participation to make it
economically feasible to continue after an initial trial period.
However, a new and more successful approach was used at the start
of the 1995-96 school year. In September, a local day care center
agreed to add an after-school program designed to provide developmentally
appropriate activities for elementary school children. Several
local organizations contributed equipment, and the program has
attracted consistent attendance by 13 children. The program answers
the need for child care during vacation periods as well as for
after-school times. Enrollment during the winter break period
is expected to double.

Jefferson County (Report of findings issued October 1994)
The Jefferson County needs assessment process was undertaken to
further explore school-age child care issues that had been identified
in a series of earlier community forums. The survey confirmed
findings gathered through the forums and, when added to existing
data, resulted in several actions by the Commission and community
partners. These included establishing an after-school program
for children in grades one through five in Culver, appropriating
funds to conduct a monthly support group for child care providers,
and funding a position with the regional child care resource and
referral agency to recruit and train family day care providers.
The person who filled the position to recruit and train providers
is bilingual and has been able to increase connections with the
Hispanic community around the issue of school-age child care.

Josephine County (Report of findings issued August 1995)
The report of findings was widely disseminated throughout the
county. Members of the Child Care Task Force, the Josephine County
Commission on Children and Families, and local school districts
all received copies. In addition, each school that participated
in the survey process received a copy of results particular to
that school. The Commission chose to address the issue of self-care
as the first step in using the survey information. Working in
cooperation with the Child Care Resource and Referral Network,
the Commission made information pamphlets available to families
with children in grades four and five. These pamphlets help families
to assess whether or not their child is ready to stay home alone
and also provide guidance on how to prepare children, who are
ready, to stay alone safely. Information on both topics is also
being covered in newsletters sent to parents of children in sixth
grade. Although the Commission prefaces the information with a
strong statement about the importance of supervised school-age
care and its relationship to quality experiences for youth, it
does recognize that children may be left on their own for varying
time periods. The information provided will hopefully increase
the safety of children during those times.

Malheur County (Report of findings issued July 1995)
The data have been used by the Commission in decisions regarding
distribution of child care block grant funds, and by local school
site councils in determining the school-age care needs of their

In conclusion, the experience of the counties demonstrates the
value of locally-derived data in community-based planning. The
survey generated information from local families about local needs
and issues, and the relevancy of that information led to local
action. Communities have not only gained important information
about school-age child care issues, they have also experienced
the benefits of a collaborative approach to research that capitalizes
on the resources of both local communities and the University.

Subsequent Study

The most important information individual counties gained through
the school-age child care needs assessment process was information
that could be readily and confidently applied to solve local problems.
However, the data may be explored further to provide a more general
sense of how families living in rural areas define their school-age
child care needs. Thus an additional study was conducted during
the fall of 1995 in which data provided by families in all of
the counties but Josephine County were aggregated and analyzed.
A summary of the methods used in the study and the findings that
emerged are provided in the following report.

What Are the Child Care Needs of Families in Rural Communities?

A core of questions common to the six county surveys was identified
and formed the basis of the study. The responses of 3697 families
with a youngest school-age child in grades K-4 provided the data
base. Specifically, the study addressed the following questions:
1) Where do children spend their after-school hours? 2) What problems
do parents have with care arrangements? 3) At what age do parents
feel children can be left home alone? 4) What educational information
is needed by children in self-care? and 5) How often and for what
time periods do families need child care?

The study used both qualitative and quantitative data gathered
by the questionnaires. Quantitative data were analyzed utilizing
descriptive statistics. Not all questionnaires were completely
filled out, and thus the number of responses to any one item varied
between items. All percentages used in this report were based
on the actual number of responses received for an item. Qualitative
data, in the form of written comments, were analyzed inductively,
using a content analysis strategy and were used primarily to provide
additional understanding of quantitative responses.

A Description of the Families

In each county, families self-selected to participate in the
study. More families with younger children are represented in
the sample because the survey asked families to provide information
based on their youngest school-age child. Over half of the families
have a child in kindergarten or first grade as compared to 13%
of families with a child in fourth grade (see Figure 2). Seventy-nine
percent of the families who responded were two-parent families,
21% were single-parent families (see Figure 3). In terms of employment,
defined as a minimum of ten hours of work per week, 57% of two-parent
families had two or more adults employed, and 40% had only one
adult employed. For single-parent households, 84% had one or more
adults employed. Unemployment rates for two-parent and single-parent
families were 3% and 16% respectively (see Figure 4).

Figure 2. Families Who Answered the Survey Have Youngest Child

Figure 3. Family Types

Figure 4. Parental Employment

3a: Two Parent Households (n=2839)

3b: One-Parent Households (n=766)

Current Care Arrangements

Families were asked to identify all care arrangements they
used in a typical week (see Figure 5). The following were the
five most frequently used types of care: at home with a parent
(74%), at home with an older child (22%), at a relative's home
(18%), at home with another adult (18%), and at family day care
(18%). These five types of care held as most prevalent across
family type, although with some noted differences. Single-parent
families (56%) were less apt to have a parent home after school
than were two-parent families (78%), and single-parent families
reported larger percentages in the use of other adult-provided
care. Both family types used care provided by an older child with
approximately the same frequency. Families were least likely to
place their children in child care centers (6%) or leave them
home alone or with younger siblings (4%).

The infrequent use of child care centers is in sharp contrast
to findings from other studies (Hofferth & Phillips,1991;
Oregon Childhood Care and Education Data Project, 1995) which
show a more equal distribution of use between care provided by
relatives, family day care, and center care. This may be explained,
in part, by the limited number of child care centers that were
available to serve school-age children in these counties.

Although most families managed to provide adult supervision for
their children after school, 25% of children were without adult
supervision at least part of each week, and 6% were without adult
supervision every day. As noted above, the use of older children
as caregivers was second only to care by parents. The age of these
older children ranged from 7 to 17 years. In some instances, the
child providing care was not much older than the child who was
receiving care.

Forty-six percent of families used just one type of care each
week. (In 29% of families, the youngest school-age child went
home to a parent every day.) Twenty-five percent of families reported
using three or more types of care each week.

Figure 5. Typical After-School Child Care

Problems with Child Care

Fifty-three percent of respondents indicated they experienced
child care problems (see Figure 6). Finding care for a sick child
topped the list of concerns (27%). Worrying about children while
at work, coordinating child care with work hours, arranging transportation
for children after school, and the cost of care were other identified
problems. Parents also indicated a concern that their children
missed out on activities because of current care arrangements.
Finding care they liked and finding care before school were problems
for 10% or fewer of the families. A comparison of data for two-parent
and single-parent families revealed that although the two groups
had similar care problems, single-parent families experienced
more problems. Two thirds of single-parent families reported problems
as opposed to half of two-parent families.
Twenty-two percent of all families (28% single-parent, 20% two-parent)
indicated that the lack of good child care kept them or their
spouse from working as many hours as they would like.
The cost of child care was problematic for many families. Twenty
percent of single-parent families and 11% of two-parent families
indicated a concern about cost, and no other topic on the questionnaire
prompted more comments from respondents. Overwhelmingly, written
remarks expressed the problems families have in paying for child
care, especially if they work for minimum wages or have more than
one child who needs care. Charges of $2 per hour or higher were
rejected as decidedly beyond the reality of family budgets. Respondents
suggested that fees based on level of income and special family
rates would make care more affordable for them.

Figure 6. Parents' Problems with School-Age Care


On average, families indicated that children become capable
of handling the responsibilities of being on their own after school
each day at approximately twelve years of age. Recognizing, however,
that younger children are sometimes left without adult supervision
not only after school but at other times during the week, the
survey asked families to identify self-care topics for which their
children needed more information. All six of the topics listed
on the questionnaire were identified by a majority of families
(see Figure 7). To address the need for this information, parents
overwhelmingly indicated a preference for video taped information
or for written materials they could use with their children at
home. Classes taught at school were also favored. Parents showed
little interest in evening or weekend classes (see Figure 8).
No differences were noted between the responses of single- and
two-parent families on the issue of self-care.

Figure 7. Percentage of Parents Who Say: “My child needs
to know more about …”

Figure 8. Parent Preferences for Education Programs

When Care Is Needed

When asked how often they would use supervised child care
if it was available, sixty-five percent of families indicated
they would use it to some extent, projected use decreasing as
the grade level of the children increased. Single-parent families
(76%) would be more likely to use care than would two-parent families
(63%). Overall, 20% of all families indicated that they would
use school-age care daily, 17% would use care two to three times
a week, and another 27% would use it on an irregular basis. Most
families would be well served by care provided as early as 6:00
a.m. and as late as 6:00 p.m., although comments from families
indicated there is some need for care that extends beyond these
times (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. Number of Families Needing After-School Care by Time

Number of Families Needing Before-School Care by Time Needed

School-Age Child Care Issues

The findings that emerged from the data identified four major
school-age child care issues that challenge rural families. First,
the need for care was substantiated. Only 29% of the children
in the sample went home to a parent every day. Most families must
find alternative after-school care arrangements, and the fact
that 54% of families used two or more kinds of care in a typical
week suggests that finding consistent care may be a problem. Second,
the impact child care problems have on parents' job performance
was underscored. Child care problems may limit the times and the
number of hours parents are able to work in addition to affecting
their productivity on the job. A third issue that emerged was
the need for affordable care, particularly for limited income
families and families with more than one child. The fourth issue
revolved around quality of care. Twenty-five percent of the children
had no adult supervision on some days of each week, and while
there is no conclusive proof that children in self-care necessarily
fare worse than those in adult-supervised care (Hayes, Palmer, & Zaslow, 1990), certainly there should be some concern as
to the quality of the care these children experience.


The need rural families have for school-age child care and
the issues that surround providing that care are similar to those
reported elsewhere for families in general (Hayes, Palmer, &
Zaslow, 1990; Hofferth & Phillips, 1991). Rural families present
a range of needs and preferences for care that cannot be met by
any one approach. Instead, a multiple-resource base is necessary,
and families, communities, and government each have contributions
to make. Parents must be advocates for their needs and those of
their children and actively participate in community planning.
They must also take responsibility for evaluating the quality
of available care options and for making informed decisions about
choice of care. Government must continue its role of subsidizing
the training and support of care providers and the cost of care
for limited-income families. A wide variety of community organizations,
including schools, youth organizations, hospitals, and churches
also have important contributions to make. Providing space for
school-age child care programs and/or offering after-school programs,
providing sick child care, and educating youth and adults about
quality care are just a few of the practices they might adopt
to support quality school-age care. Through combined efforts,
a community-based system of care can be developed that will promote
the healthy development of children and, at the same time, permit
parents to successfully meet parenting and job responsibilities.


Hayes, C., Palmer, J., & Zaslow, M. (Eds.). (1990). Who
cares for America's children? Washington, D C: National Academy

Hofferth, S. & Phillips, D. (1991). Child care policy research.
Journal of Social Issues, 47(2), 1-13.

Oregon Childhood Care and Education Project. (1995). Data for
community planning. Salem, OR: Child Care Division of the Oregon
Employment Department.

Riley, D. (1992). Project manual: The SACC community assessment
and development project. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.



National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the
National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission
is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only
(not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment
and this notice is

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child
Care –
NNCC. Hobbs, B. B. (1995). *Oregon school-age child care needs
Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Extension.

Any additions or changes to these materials must be preapproved
by the author .

Beverly B. Hobbs, Ph.D.
Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development
Oregon State University
105 Ballard Extenison Hall
Corvallis, OR 97331-3608
Phone: 541-737-2421

Beverly B. Hobbs, Ph.D.
Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development
Oregon State University
105 Ballard Extenison Hall
Corvallis, OR 97331-3608
Phone: 541-737-2421


FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Print – 16 pages
Level 2 – Oregon State University Extension Service
March 1998



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